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Claude Hellawell

2nd Radio Officer, Claude Hellawell , Merchant Navy , M.V. Robert L. Holt (Liverpool).

Claude Hellawell was born at Ossett in 1921, the son of William Hemingway Hellawell and Jean MacMahon, who married at Portsmouth in late 1918. The couple had two sons, Claude born in spring 1921 and Roy born in early 1926. Both births were registered at Dewsbury, suggesting that the family had moved to Ossett by 1921. In 1939 the couple were living at Moderation Villa, Runtlings Lane, Ossett. The household also includes their son Roy and a redaction which is most likely to have been their only other child, Claude Hellawell.

Claude’s father, William, served in the Royal Navy in the Great War 1914-18. William Hemingway Hellawell was born on the 1st September 1895 and baptised at Ossett Holy Trinity Church on the 19th January 1896, the son of Joseph Hellawell and Lydia Ellen (nee Hemingway) of Bank Street, Ossett. The family had moved to Runtlings Lane by 1901 and in 1911 they were recorded at Moderation Villa, Runtlings Lane.

William Hellawell was 5’3” tall with dark brown hair, brown eyes, a fresh complexion and a tattoo of a crest of flowers rose in the centre of his right arm. He joined the Royal Navy, signing on for 12 years, on the 14th October 1912, shortly after his 17th birthday. He became a clerk and served throughout the war years, 1914-1918 before being invalided out on the 13th November 1919 whilst serving at Victory Base at Portsmouth. He died at Iveson House, Ireland Wood, Cookridge, Leeds on the 24th May 1980.

Cargo ship Robert L. Holt, 2,918 gross tons, (John Holt & Co. Ltd) had sailed from Liverpool in ballast for Warri, Nigeria in the 45 ship Convoy OB-337, which left Liverpool on the 20th June 1941 and dispersed eight days later. The Robert L. Holt, which had been acting as the Convoy Commodore ship dispersed in position 48’ 17N 20’ 40W about 730 miles from the Island of Graciosa in the Azores and set up a zigzag pattern and course for Africa. The ship was never heard from again and in August 1941 A Joint Arbitration Committee considered her lost between the 2nd and 9th July by "War Causes" Information picked up from German sources stated the ship had been sunk by gunfire from a U-boat on July 3rd 1941.

A report from U-69 later stated that on July 3rd the U-boat, which had been returning to her home base after a 65 day patrol having used up all up all her torpedoes after sinking six Merchant ships, encountered the ship North-West of the Canary Islands. U-69 commanded by Captain Jost Metzler surfaced and decided to attack the Robert L. Holt using her deck gun. The Merchant ship armed with a small mounted stern gun took up the challenge and so began a two hour battle for survival. Despite an attempt to ram the U-69, the out gunned Merchant ship was pulverised after the U-boat fired off 102 high explosive rounds and 34 incendiary rounds from her deck gun, 220 rounds from the 20mm gun and 400 rounds with the MG34.

At 06.50 hours (CET) the burning ship slipped beneath the waves in position 34’ 15N 20’ 00W. It is not known how many men if any managed to abandon ship, but the U-boat slipped away and left them to their fate. The Captain, forty-one crew, eight DEMS gunners, the Convoy Commodore and his six naval staff all perished.

The U-69 was sunk by the depth charges of the British destroyer HMS Fame on the 17th February 1943 off the coast of Newfoundland with 46 dead (all hands lost).1

Claude Hellawell died on the 3rd/4th July 1941 aged 20 years and is commemorated at Tower Hill Memorial on Panel 88.

In the First World War, the civilian navy's duty was to be the supply service of the Royal Navy, to transport troops and supplies to the armies, to transport raw materials to overseas munitions factories and munitions from those factories, to maintain, on a reduced scale, the ordinary import and export trade, to supply food to the home country and - in spite of greatly enlarged risks and responsibilities - to provide both personnel and ships to supplement the existing resources of the Royal Navy.

Losses of vessels were high from the outset, but had peaked in 1917 when in January the German government announced the adoption of "unrestricted submarine warfare". The subsequent preventative measures introduced by the Ministry of Shipping - including the setting up of the convoy system where warships were used to escort merchant vessels - led to a decrease in losses but by the end of the war, 3,305 merchant ships had been lost with a total of 17,000 lives.
In the Second World War, losses were again considerable in the early years, reaching a peak in 1942. The heaviest losses were suffered in the Atlantic, but convoys making their way to Russia around the North Cape, and those supplying Malta in the Mediterranean were also particularly vulnerable to attack. In all, 4,786 merchant ships were lost during the war with a total of 32,000 lives. More than one quarter of this total were lost in home waters.

The First World War section of the Tower Hill Memorial commemorates almost 12,000 Mercantile Marine casualties who have no grave but the sea. It was unveiled by Queen Mary on 12 December 1928. The Second World War extension commemorates almost 24,000 casualties. It was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 5 November 1955. In addition, in 2005, a memorial was built on the site by the Merchant Navy Association (to a design by Gordon Newton) to commemorate the Merchant Navy casualties of the Falklands War.2


1. U 69 and the sinking of the British vessel Robert L. Holt

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site